Friday, 6 April 2007

90-day execution review unrealistic, inadequate, critics say

90-day execution review unrealistic, inadequate, critics say

By Jared Allen,

April 06, 2007
Two Tennessee attorneys with extensive experience in death penalty cases criticized Gov. Phil Bredesen’s executive order to have the Department of Correction (DOC) review the state’s lethal injection protocols, saying on Thursday that the 90-day time frame Bredesen gave the department to fully investigate the deficiencies in the lethal injection process is “nonsense.”

The comments, made by Nashville Attorney Michael Passino and Tennessee-based Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry, were aired at the sole open forum designed to solicit public input as the DOC, under Commissioner George Little, goes about recommending a new protocol for lethal injections in Tennessee.

On Feb. 2, Bredesen ordered a 90-day halt to all lethal injections against Tennessee’s death row inmates, which he said would give the state time to correct “sloppy cut and paste” execution proceedings that were “full of deficiencies,” as Bredesen described them.

But that time window, which will expire on May 2, is wholly inadequate, said Passino and Henry, noting other states, such as Florida and California, that have recently undertaken reviews of their own state’s lethal injection procedures, did so over far lengthier time frames and with a much more open process that included more public input and far more expert medical testimony.

“It is neither responsible nor realistic for the governor to ask you to do this within the next 30 days,” Passino told Little, who was flanked by Ricky Bell, warden of the Riverbend maximum security prison, where the state’s executions are carried out, as well as by members of his staff working on the new protocol proposal.

Henry, too, directly criticized the timeframe, calling 90 days an unrealistic window to fully address a process that has a documented history of problems that have led to the agonizing deaths of multiple inmates, notably Joseph Clark of Ohio and Angel Diaz of Florida.

During his “botched” execution that lasted over 40 minutes, Diaz received no anesthesia, Henry recounted.

“Diaz was fully conscious when he felt what everyone agrees was the searing and torturous pain of the lethal drug as he suffocated, unable to cry out,” Henry said.

“The experiences late last year with the Clark execution in Ohio and the Diaz execution in Florida teach that the complaints brought on behalf of death row inmates to the lethal injection procedures are not the mere rantings of anti-death penalty lawyers,” she continued. “To think now that this horrible mess can be remedied in 90 days with one short public comment period is nonsense.”

Passino also told Little that 90 days was too short of a period to ensure that the rights and psychological welfare of the correction workers assigned to death penalty administration are addressed.

“The process has to ensure that those people doing those jobs — administering IVs, mixing chemicals — feel confident in those jobs, and that their psychological well being is protected,” Passino said.

After the hearing, Little told reporters he was confident the 90 days given to him by Bredesen was sufficient.

“We do plan to meet the timeframe that’s laid out for us,” Little said. “We will provide not only our best efforts but a product that is adequate to the task.

“We’re looking at all the relevant information that is out there. As was noted a number of jurisdictions are dealing with this issue as we speak, and so we’re drawing on that information,” Little added.

Little, though, would not offer specifics about the new protocol he has been charged with developing, saying it would not be unveiled until the end of the 90-day timeframe.

“At that point we will share it with the appropriate policymakers, and it will be their decision as to next steps,” he said.

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